Berkeley city council passes plan allowing Telegraph Avenue to be open 24/7

Derek Remsburg/File

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By next month, commercial businesses on Telegraph Avenue north of Dwight Way will have the option of staying open for 24 hours a day.

At its meeting Tuesday night, City Council voted to extend hours of operation for businesses between Bancroft and Dwight ways to create Berkeley’s first 24-hour commercial zone.

“Students and people — particularly in their 20s or 30s — have schedules that aren’t rigidly 9-to-5, so we thought it’d be something very popular,” said Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. “For Telegraph, this makes all the sense in the world.”

Currently, businesses that do not serve alcohol can stay open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — two hours later than those that do serve alcohol. Businesses that want later hours must apply for an Administrative Use Permit or Use Permit, which is often a lengthy process.

Under the new ordinance, businesses will no longer have to apply for individual permits to extend their closing hours.

Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum, received a permit in June 2011 to stay open for 24 hours. However, since then, the cafe has maintained its regular closing hours at midnight.

“If we had enough traffic, if we were able to build up a nighttime economy, that makes it worthwhile … we might consider extending our hours,” he said. “We hope that in the future, there’ll be more business.”

This idea has long been in the works and has been discussed widely over the last few years. In May 2010, City Council considered extending hours to 3 a.m. until the Telegraph Business Improvement District suggested a “24/7 zone” instead.

“It’ll encourage students to socialize together at different hours of the night and promote safety on Telegraph,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi. “Telegraph needs to be revitalized and provide more options for students.”

However, Berkeley Police Department and the division of code enforcement have expressed concerns that extending hours could lead to “increased negative behavior.”

To address these concerns, the ordinance specifies that businesses that sell alcohol for off-site consumption will have to maintain closing hours at midnight, and many believe the noise level should not be an issue.

“This is new for Berkeley,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “It’s an experiment.”

Yet the vision for an energetic, late-night environment is just one factor in the city’s efforts to revitalize Telegraph Avenue and boost its economy — one that may take some time to live up to its full potential.

“It may take a few years for it to gain momentum and create a critical mass of businesses that are interested in (staying open 24/7),” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “(But) I think it’s worth trying out and seeing if it works.”

Daphne Chen is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @dchen_dc.